"We used to deliver almonds to the huller in bags,” said Todd Browne. "A lot has changed for almond growers."
Todd Browne grew up on a lemon and avocado farm in Ventura County. He was a farm advisor for many years at the Sanger Agricultural Extension office. In 1963, Todd and his wife Nancy purchased a 40-acre piece in Sanger that was planted with peach trees and grapes. Shortly after they moved, Todd planted almonds and is currently on his fourth generation of almond tree plantings for his total of 70 acres.
Todd and Nancy were married for 64 years and raised three children, Greg, David, and Laura. When Todd isn’t around the farm, you can find him spending time with his family at their vacation home in Ventura with his dog Bailey, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
When Todd joined the Association in 1969, there were a small amount of growers in the Association. "Almond plantings down here were small because farmers were testing the waters," said Todd. "When I first started, there were no orchards on the Westside because of the water quality and availability."
Todd served on seat six of the Board of Directors from 1986 to 2001. During his 15 years as a board member and over 60 years of farming experience, Todd has watched the Association and the almond industry change. "The expansion of the industry in terms of marketing, growing, custom farm services and the consumption of almonds worldwide continues to increase."
Being 88 years-old hasn’t stopped Todd from doing what he loves. "I just recently replanted 15 acres and this was my first time using the Whole Orchard Recycling program. My farm manager and I have been working together throughout the entire process." Todd expressed that people and education have transformed the industry and has helped farmers like himself produce a great quality product.
Most people at Todd’s age might be ready to retire, but Todd isn’t. "I love the independence that farming brings. This is a chosen life and a life you fight for. I raised my kids in this and this farm will be theirs and my grandchildren’s one day."
James McFarlane is a third-generation farmer in Clovis, CA. James attended
college at Stanford and worked as an engineer for several years. He
returned to his family farm in 1991 and worked alongside his father,
William, known as Bill.
His father, Bill, was a co-founder of the Association. Prior to the Association’s creation in 1963, James’ grandfather, Frank, leased his first property in 1920. In 1948, Frank and Bill became partners and originally farmed row crops until planting almonds in the 1950’s.
“Growing up, I would attend the Association meetings with my father and
all I wanted to do was go home. As I became older, and once I served the
Board of Director’s, I realized how important those meetings were because
there was business to be done.”
James served the Association’s Board of Directors from 2001 to 2022. He
said serving the board was a valuable experience. “I learned a lot about
farming from being around the board. It was an experience that you get
more out of than you put in.”
Since the McFarlane family have been members of the Association from the
beginning, he has seen and contributed to many changes. James said the
volume of member’s acreage has increased drastically from when he first
served the board until now. He was also serving the board during the
change in management in 2005 and the construction of Kerman Plant 3 in
2006. One of the last changes James contributed to while on the board was
the Association’s decision to change the hulling fee from a meat
equivalent to now a delivered basis.
James expressed the importance of the Association not only for himself but
for all members. “This is a shared Association. We are all in business
together and we understand what we all have in common, but also respect
the differences each member has.”
Aside from the Association, he discussed technological changes within the
almond industry, especially irrigation. Additionally, he explained the
importance of having a beneficial fertilizer and pollination program, but
stressed that without an effective irrigation system, the other programs
aren’t as valuable.
When discussing the future of the almond industry, James said the biggest
challenges for farmers revolves around water. “Farmers can only plant what
they have water for. Everyone is chasing after water especially farmers
with permanent crops.” He also discussed the pros and cons of SGMA and how
it will affect farmers.
James is appreciative of his family’s history in farming and the
Association. “My dad set the table for my sisters and I growing up. Now
it’s my turn to set the table up for my daughters.”
The Association truly appreciates his 21 years of service, dedication, and
effort to the Board of Directors.
“My parents used to say by the time I was five, they knew I would be a farmer,” said Jeff McKinney. “I never wanted to do anything else.”
Jeff McKinney is a fourth-generation farmer in Madera, CA. His grandfather J.E. McKinney is originally from Tennessee and moved to California in the 1930’s. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Clayton Brown, was the first of the family to join the Association in the early 1970’s. Jeff’s father, Don McKinney, joined the Association in 1981. Don began serving the Association’s Board of Directors in 1988 and served as the Chairman for five years.
Shortly after graduating college, in 1998, Jeff took over the 400 acres of farming from his grandfather and father. Today, Jeff farms 500 acres of almonds, operates a custom harvesting and farm management business, and recently diversified into commercial properties.
Outside of farming, Jeff’s family (his wife Erin, son Mason, and daughters Lexi and Avery) keep him busy. Erin and Jeff enjoy trips to their Shaver Lake cabin in their free time. Mason works in crop insurance and helps Jeff with farming. Lexi works in interior design and manages property in Arizona. Avery is a senior in high school and will be attending University of Oregon in the Fall.
In 2015 Jeff joined the Board of Directors and became Chairman in 2020. He always knew the time would come for him to serve the Association, and when seat #5 became available, Jeff did not hesitate to run. “My dad was the chairman when Kerman Plant #3 was in the process of being built. I always loved hearing about the progress of the plant.” He noted that since his family’s involvement from the 1970’s, he felt involved with the Association at a young age. “My dad met a lot of people serving the Association’s Board and it benefitted him as a farmer. I felt a calling and wanted that for myself.”
With Jeff’s family being members for over 50 years, he has experienced many changes within the Association. “I remember a time when there wasn’t a stockpile yard at both facilities. The growth of the almondy industry forced our Association to change, and we did exactly that.” Jeff noted that the throughput of the plant’s, the number of trucks running across the scales and efficiency of the equipment and technology has helped make the Association as successful as it is today.
The future of the almond industry looks different for everyone. Jeff said the peak year was in 2020, when the industry produced a 3-billion-pound crop. “There are big changes in all areas ahead of all almond producers. SGMA is going to challenge farmers in producing a crop of that size again.” Water supply, irrigation districts, the cost of equipment and pesticides are some important factors that will affect almond producers for the future.
Although the future of the almond industry is changing, the future of the Association is looking better than ever. “Our management team is never afraid to try something new. The team puts in a lot of effort in learning about what we are considering investing in.” Jeff noted that the decisions management makes are always beneficial and efficient for the Association and its members.
The Association is appreciative of the McKinney family’s service and their efforts on behalf of our members.
"When I first moved to Fresno and started farming with my family, I had no idea what I was doing," said Sam Chimenti. "It took a while for me to learn the business, but I became a Californian."
Sam Chimenti is a second-generation farmer who was born in Puglia, Italy. In the early 1960’s, when Sam was 12, his family moved to New Jersey where they opened a deli and grocery store. "After school, I would get to work at 3:30 and work until 9:30," said Sam.
After selling the family deli in 1973, Sam and his mother took a trip to visit his uncle in California. "My father had no idea where we were going," said Sam. "My uncle kept telling us that the San Joaquin Valley was similar to what life was like in Italy, and he was right."
In late 1973, Sam moved to California with his parents and brother. Sam said it took some time to learn how to become a farmer and often missed New Jersey as the transition to the new family business was challenging. Him and his wife, Marie, live on the first property his father purchased, and today they farm 500 acres of almonds.
Sam and Marie have been married for 44 years. They raised four boys, Frank, Joseph, Patrick, and Sam, have five grandchildren and another on the way. Joseph works closely with his parents managing most of the real estate and assists with the farm. Marie plays a large role in the family business managing all the bookkeeping.
There have been many changes within the almond industry that Sam has experienced in the 50 years he has been farming. "The equipment today is completely different and more advanced than in the past. We have been doing our own harvesting since the beginning and we don’t even need to touch the almond anymore."
Sam’s family have been members of the Association for 49 years. "I have always been taken care of and management has done a great job with returns to the Members." He credited Bob Hines, co-founder of the Association, for paving the way for a strong cooperative.
As for the future, Sam believes the almond industry looks bright for all growers. "We needed the past year so that the market can adjust. Almonds have become versatile. We have the right people farming and the right people promoting and innovating the product."
Sam has a lot of gratitude towards his family. "This is a family business. I am proud of what I built with my family when I was younger, I am proud of what I built with my wife and I am proud to have my children take over one day."
"God put me in the right place at the right time, which guided me to becoming an almond grower," said Deloss, "Monte," Grinstead.
Monte was born and raised in Kerman on a vineyard ranch. His dad was a Sun-Maid raisin grower. "My father was a die hard, Sun-Maid grower. He believed in what a cooperative can do for its members and that led me to join the Association and Blue Diamond."
After high school, he began working in construction and moved to San Diego in 1963. He started his own business in 1973 and specialized in backhoe excavating and trenching for commercial and agricultural construction. While working in San Diego, Monte married his wife, Mary, in 1964 and they have three children.
Monte spent nine years in the San Diego area until moving back to Kerman in 1973. "I was actually looking for property with a vineyard, but nothing was available," he said. "It turned out for the better because the property I purchased was already bearing almonds." He purchased the property he still resides at in 1977. Monte expressed that the almond industry has been extremely good to him and that he is glad to farm something different from his father.
When Monte purchased his ground, he contacted a custom harvester that referred him to join the Association. After his first harvest, he started buying his own equipment so that he could do the work himself. Monte also did his own stockpiling for many years. "When I started, nobody was using canvas. The technology within this industry has never stopped improving." He also discussed how irrigation has changed drastically and the importance of knowing what irrigation method is going to work for your farm.
Aside from technological advances, he also discussed the improvements of science within the almond industry. Monte expressed the importance of knowing rootstocks that will provide a quality crop based on the soil you have. He also explained that it is important to shop around at different nurseries and find the rootstock that fits your soil needs.
Monte has been a CCAGA and Blue Diamond member since his first almond season. "They have really done a great job of getting the attention of the consumer." He explained that their innovations and how they apply new products based on consumer preferences worldwide is what sets the almond industry apart from other tree nuts.
With 46 years of experience, Monte gave some advice for the next generation of almond growers. "The world is changing before us, and you will experience rough times but keep your eyes wide open."
"When I started, we were just a one-horse operation. Now our Association has four plants. It is amazing to be a part of this cooperative’s progress," said Robert "Bob" Hines, former manager of Central California Almond Growers Association.
Bob grew up in Coalinga and his father owned a gas station for several years before moving to Clovis in 1941. Once the family settled in Clovis, his father began farming row crops and raised beef cattle.
Bob graduated from Fresno State in 1954 and received his Bachelor of Science in Agronomy. In 1956, he was drafted into the military for two years. After serving in the military, he contacted his agronomy professor from Fresno State looking for a job. This contact was helpful as it led him to an opportunity working for the USDA Cotton Research Station in Shafter.
Bob and his wife, Joan, have been married for 69 years, have two children, Beth and Dave, five grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren. Their children carried on Bob’s legacy by staying involved in the agricultural industry. Beth farms almonds in Visalia with her husband, and their son, Dave, also farms almonds and is a co-owner of Kings River Packing in Sanger.
While working for the research center, Bob ran into his old friend, William "Bill" McFarlane, in Bakersfield. Shortly after, Bill offered him a job managing the Clovis-Sanger Cooperative Gin. He worked diligently advertising everywhere so that people would plant and deliver their cotton to the gin for processing.
The cooperative gin’s board members started to see the cotton industry shift towards the west side in the late 1950’s. As the cotton industry on the east side began to change, the board members began thinking about the future. They believed almonds would be a great alternative that could be grown on the valley’s east side. In the early 1960’s, the first almonds trees were planted in the San Joaquin Valley. Shortly after planting this permanent crop, the board shifted their focus to building an almond huller.
Bob began working with Bill McFarlane to construct an almond huller as the founding manager of Central California Almond Growers Association, while still managing the cotton gin. He spent five years managing the cotton gin and huller. "It was a very interesting ride because I started from the bottom in the almond industry." Despite the uncertainty of a new industry, he figured it out and managed the Association for a total of 25 years.
In the early years of the Association, Bob was continuously making improvements that would benefit the huller and member. Over the years, he redefined the shelling process to produce a better-quality almond kernel. Not only was Bob handling issues as they emerged, but he provided a vision for the construction of Kerman Plant #1 (K1) in 1983. This facility revolutionized the almond industry as it was the first in-line sheller behind the pre-cleaner and huller.
The completion of K1 was a historical and defining moment for the Association and California almond industry. K1 and Bob were featured in a 1984 issue of the California-Arizona Farm Press magazine. K1’s pre-cleaner was the first facility that could clean 50 tons/hour and shell out five tons of meats/hour. He said a delivery of field run could be ran through the pre-cleaner in 30 minutes. Prior to K1, no other huller and sheller in California could handle this kind of volume. Once K1 was running, the Association received 26,000 acres from 350 members. The following quote from Bob’s feature in the Farm Press article sums up the drastic change within the industry: "20 years ago, when the association was formed, growers were still knocking nuts onto canvas and delivering them in barley snacks. Now it’s all mechanical shakers, sweepers, and pick up machines- a totally automated harvesting."
Bob has been at the forefront for the formation and foundation of change within the almond industry. The technique of stockpiling almonds came from his experience in the cotton industry. "It took us two to three years to master stockpiling in Sanger," he said. "We had to ensure value to end with stockpiling and execute the idea in a safe way that would not isolate us from certain markets." Previous Fresno Bee articles feature Bob discussing a rainy season during almond harvest in the fall of 1976. He said stockpiling was one of the best insurance policies for a grower to protect the product from rain and insect damage.
Aside from on-site innovations, Bob was also an advocate for policies within the almond industry. He explained that when the Association was founded, he was constantly working with the USDA discussing pesticide, stockpile and fumigation issues, as well as by-product placement for the dairy industry.
Not only has he had a large influence at Central California Almond Growers Association but has left an impact on the agricultural community statewide. In 1998, Bob received the Co-op Career Professional Award at the 79th Annual Meeting of the Agricultural Council of California. This award was well deserved for his work with the Clovis-Sanger Cooperative Gin, serving the Allied Grape Growers Board of Directors, Cotton Board of Directors and Manager of the Association.
Learning about almonds and watching the industry transform drastically is something Bob never saw coming. During the early years, he said that the nuts came into the huller green. "The nuts had to be dried out. We ran them through a pot-hole dryer. This was a big bin with a screen bottom, and we would add heated air. The process is completely different today. Back then, we had to keep it simple for the growers to make an investment. We have come a long way."
When discussing his time as past manager of the Association, he is proud to see how far this cooperative has come since its formation 60 years ago. "I believe the secret to success for a cooperative is the character of the Board of Directors," he said. He expressed the importance of having great leadership in a cooperative because every decision affects the membership.
At 92, Bob has had a lot of time to reflect on what he has accomplished. "I am most proud of my family, but I am also proud to have helped form this cooperative and how the almond industry has evolved." He discussed the next generation taking over the industry and expressed the importance of loyalty and dedication to what you are passionate about. Bob said the conversion from a huller, now to a huller and sheller, was one of the most revolutionizing moments of his career.
Central California Almond Growers Association has transformed significantly since 1963. Bob Hines and Bill McFarlane are the backbone of this cooperative’s success, and it would not be as prosperous as it is today without their efforts.
“When I first came to this country and lived with my uncle, I was able to eat as many eggs as I wanted in the morning,” said Ernest “Ernie” Fordin. “In France, I would only be allowed one egg. It was amazing to see the abundance of food in America.”
Ernie Fordin was born in Southwest France in 1933. His father grew row crops and
raised cattle. Ernie’s Uncle Pete left France with his family in 1930 but came back to visit in 1950. “My uncle was a sheep owner in Fresno and when he visited France, I decided I wanted to head to America with him,” he said. “What my father was making in a year was equivalent to what my uncle was making in a month. It was a poor way to make a living.” At 18, Ernie left France in 1951 and didn’t speak any English.
When Ernie first arrived in America, he worked for his uncle as a camp tender.
Ernie said he didn’t mind the work, but his passion lied in machinery and mechanic work. After three years, his uncle bought a small ranch and Ernie became the manager.
Just three days after arriving in Fresno, he met his wife, Elisa, and they married in 1955. They have two daughters, Angela and Michele, and twin granddaughters. They lived in Tranquility for many years before retiring in 1995 and moving to Fresno in the early 2000’s.
Ernie worked for his uncle until Elisa and him were married. He began working
for Mr. Alex Metzler’s ranch in Helm as a “grease monkey” servicing his equipment, including his airplanes. Elisa also worked for Alex as the secretary for the private scale he owned. “Alex and I worked out a deal that if I serviced his airplane every day, he would finance pilot classes for me,” he said. “From that agreement, I worked my way up to become his foreman.” In 1958, Ernie became a pilot.
After working for Alex for five years, a 470-acre ranch became available to rent. He was hesitant about renting a ranch of that size but decided to take a chance. “I didn’t have any money for equipment, so Elisa’s uncle gave me a loan,” Ernie said. “During that time, everything was based on trust and your word.” He credited that honest work and asking for help when needed played an important role in his life.
The desire to work for himself resulted in Ernie renting more acreage. He continued to take advantage of acres available for rent and began hiring employees. Up until his retirement, he rented and owned 2,100 acres and employed eight people. He was growing primarily row crops until a 160-acre almond ranch in Caruthers became available in 1974. Ernie became a member of the Association in 1976 and still owns 160
acres of almonds.
When Ernie wasn’t working, you could find him spending time with his family, fixing up old cars, golfing, or snow skiing. Now that he is retired, he enjoys tending to his
garden. At 90 years old, Ernie is grateful for all the hard work and people he met during his younger years. “If you come from something, you would stay,” Ernie said. “I’ve met wonderful people, we’ve had wonderful people work for us, and I trusted everyone I did business with.”
William “Bill” Chandler is a third-generation almond grower in Selma. His family was originally from Illinois but moved to California in 1884. “My grandfather wrote a letter to my grandmother while he was visiting California in December, and in that letter, he wrote, ‘The children can play outside without mackinaw’s, (heavy duty jacket)’ He couldn’t believe the difference in climate during Winter.” His grandfather visited Tulare and Kings County before calling Selma home.
Once Bill’s grandfather was settled in Selma, he began dry-land farming. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that his family began farming tree fruit, specifically peaches, plums and nectarines. Bill said his family also produced cotton for a short time, which led him to meeting Bob Hines, Todd Browne, and Bill McFarlane. “One of our plum fields had a horrible disease,” said Bill. “Todd Browne came out to this field and told us that we should pull out the plums and plant almonds, so we listened.” He said diversifying into almonds was an opportunity that happened at the right time. Him and his father planted their first orchard in 1979.
Bill attended UC Davis in 1959 and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Pomology. While in college, he met his wife, Carol, and they married in 1966. They have two children, John and Tom, and three grandchildren. John and Tom attended college and had their own careers before deciding they missed working on the family farm. Bill, Carol, John, and Tom work closely together to carry on the next generation of Chandler farming.
Having a history with Bob and Bill McFarlane led to joining Central California Almond Growers Association. Not long after, Bill joined Blue Diamond Growers in 1980. “It is important to surround yourself with likeminded and loyal people because that is what makes up a good cooperative.”
Bill has always had a passion for agriculture and was presented with the opportunity to participate in the California Agricultural Leadership Class Six in 1976. “My friends suggested I apply, and I am glad I did because it was a great way for me to network within and outside of our industry and improve my confidence in conversation with others.” He expressed that sometimes it can be hard to educate the public about the agricultural industry, especially topics about regulation and political stances.
Still residing at the family’s original “home place,” Bill and his family produce almonds, citrus and wine grapes. “We started shifting our focus into producing more almonds because it has been a good crop for our family,” he said.
As for the almond industry, Bill and Carol agree that research is the future. “We are able to access information about the health of an almond tree and improve our education of this industry,” said Carol. Bill explained that the only thing within the industry we can’t get a handle on is the weather.
With a history in farming, Bill is glad his sons returned to work in the business. “It is really special that we get to keep ‘family’ in our family farm.”